will contain some suicide ideation and death.
FIRST CLASS SOLDIER
that's what you believed yourself to be.
an ex-SOLDIER, at any rate - because you're not dumb. the corruption that the company breeds is what creates organizations like AVALANCHE, the one that you'd been invited to and agreed to work for in order to receive pay. and you make it clear, yes, that's all you're there for; you don't give a damn about Barret's virtue-signaling, you couldn't care less about the planet's inevitable heat-death that'll happen years after you're around, and right now you need something to support yourself and if terrorist work is what needs to be done to earn that, then whatever. why look both ways before crossing the street when your rescue lies at the other end?
that's what you convince yourself of, anyway. no spinelessness and a deep craving to prove yourself to long-time friend Tifa Lockhart would be the cause of that, because you were in SOLDIER, and you were First Class. the look she'd given you when you came off the train
(did you? did you come off a train?) had obviously been a beseeching one, and you're nothing if not a helpful guy for a girl who needs it.
maybe, in hindsight, you should've said no to that request, the way it goes down later. but hey, leave it to Sephiroth to complicate things; he always did, after all.
you feel compelled, as you had as a boy, to follow Sephiroth once you'd heard word of him again; but it's not the admiration that you used when he was a world famous First Class SOLDIER, but instead a deep-seated vitriol existing due to the disaster he'd wrought about everything you'd ever cared about. what goes from simply being paid as a terrorist turns into a search and destroy mission, but you're hardly about to complain about that, and while Barret preaches his typical environmentalist crap, you're here to exact the revenge that had been years in the making.
(reunion, reunion. you're going to follow sephiroth in an attempt at a reunion.)
your journey in an attempt to follow brought you to new locations that you'd never dreamed of going to as a child, brought you new friends that you never thought you'd make. you didn't care, you repeatedly told yourself. told yourself, obsessed even, over the idea that you would be chasing Sephiroth, that you would enact vengeance against him. you were better than those attachments. you were ex-SOLDIER; and right now, all that mattered was taking Sephiroth down.
you'd try to convince yourself of that, in the wake of a certain Aerith Gainsborough, a girl you'd find in the slums, made you laugh...and you don't remember the last time you had. you'd try to convince yourself of that as you can't help but remark that Barret looks like a bear wearing a marshmallow in that stupid sailor suit of his. you'd try to convince yourself of that when you look upon the statue of Nanaki's father, to convince yourself of that when you listen to Vincent's tales of woe like you would that of the most kindred of spirits, to convince yourself of that when you get your materia stolen by Yuffie but you can't help but not be mad at her at the end of it, to convince yourself of that when the sting of betrayal hits you hard when Cait Sith sells you out. when Cid practically makes you jump out of your skin.
the smell of the flower that you'd bought for one gil. the first fortune that Cait Sith told you. the way that Barret cried when Dyne fell. the way you, Aerith, and Tifa threatened Don Corneo as he tried to creep on you. the Observatory that Nanaki brought you to, with the bright stars and the planets revolving around each other. Vincent's intense love for Lucretia
(that would touch upon a part of you that wanted to love still). the offer Cid made you, and the way he laughed when you made well of the plane crashing.
when you remember all of this in clearer detail than you do where you're going, sometimes.
it becomes a little harder to convince yourself of that when Aerith is struck, falls, and you can still hear her voice in your head, asking you if you're jealous, saying that you look cute 'Miss Cloud', and Sephiroth, like every single damn time, is to blame.
it becomes harder, but it reminds you of why you wanted to convince yourself of that in the first place.
that's what he tried to make you.
it should've tipped you off, more, made you more suspicious, the way that Tifa seemed evasive when talking to you. it should've stood out even more when you saw Nibelheim intact. it should've especially hit you when you visited Gongaga, when you met two people who were parents of a First Class SOLDIER. how Sephiroth seemed to know where you were, how he seemed to fixate on you to the same degree you fixated on him.
you didn't think about it, because you played into the hatred he likely wanted to feed off of. after seeing your village burn, after knowing, knowing your mother hadn't escaped, how could you not feel that way? how could you not feel that your life's purpose had to be to put him back down, when you were sure before you'd already done it upon your first confrontation with him? those five years ago - when he lashed out, when he snapped and went crazy, and when you fought him to defend Tifa.
it really should've tipped you off when she didn't remember you being there at all.
you'd built yourself so strongly around this identity of the ex-SOLDIER, of the calm and collected, of the tough and the brave and the one to have accomplished so much in his life. but Sephiroth whispered in your ear, he whispered words that you did not want to hear but as the words continued on, the more it made sense of everything else.
'i want to meet...you.'
she'd said that to you before Sephiroth took her away from you. Aerith knew the entire time.
when you were in the pyramid that Aerith located, you'd found the Meteor Materia that Sephiroth appeared to be looking for...and then you gave it to him. but Aerith never seemed upset with you about that. Barret told you to quit moping after you literally lost control of your body. and then, not long after that, she was gone.
you could've used that strength. you could have.
but for you, it was starting to become apparent that you should face who you really are. and when you see Tifa again, it becomes apparent to you that she is not your long time friend, and neither are you hers. you are, and always will be, effectively strangers.
you tell them that you're sorry. you tell them that you're sorry that you couldn't be the real Cloud that Tifa remembered from Nibelheim. you tell them that you're a clone of Sephiroth, and the purpose of the REUNION is to help Sephiroth become a god. you will unleash the Weapons, you will give Sephiroth the Materia he needs to take the world that left him behind underfoot, and then your purpose will be done as you join the Lifestream, the land of the dead.
you don't remember much after that. you're told after the fact that you'd been found...somewhere. that you weren't moving. Mako poisoning, they said. you and Aerith had found a guy in the the slums together who suffered from Mako poisoning. you'd thought it weird that all he could do was groan.
you're out of that now, though. you're saved.
a part of you kind of wishes you hadn't been.
that's what you turned out to be.
Tifa helped you see that.
as the two of you fell into a crack in the world, it became more apparent who 'Cloud' really was - and who he was not.
you never made it into SOLDIER. in fact, you'd been an infantryman at most; and not only that, but you'd faced a hard truth: you're not only a nobody, but a nobody who'd failed.
during the Nibelheim Incident, you'd been powerless as you watched your village burn. you'd followed after Sephiroth and did your best to help and protect Tifa. but not only had Sephiroth not died, not truly, but she'd needed to be rescued by someone else in the end as all you wound up doing was losing consciousness on the stairs.
you'd been taken in by Shin-Ra's lead scientist, Hojo, and experimented on. you don't really remember that so well, even now, but you do know it'd been four years. you could have died. in fact, you should have.
but your story has a real hero, and it's not you: Zack Fair.
the actual First Class SOLDIER, the one who'd been the son of the couple you'd met in Gongaga, and...a close friend of yours. but it's not his grand accomplishments in SOLDIER, big as they are such as ending the Wutai War, that make you long for his return, that make you wish it'd been you instead.
he'd been captured, too. he'd been at the Incident, too. he'd been the original altercation with Sephiroth...and when the two of you were locked up, he saved you. he freed you from Hojo's clutches and went on the run, for a year, for your sake. he protected you, fed you, talked to you. and that sword upon your back? the sword you just used like a toy and quickly replaced once you obtained something better? the Buster Sword had been his, a sword that he gave you in order to protect yourself.
and it had protected you. you're lucky. you're alive.
but he hadn't been.
of course it takes you returning to Shin-Ra Manor, the location you'd been experimented on in, right within your own town, for you to remember him at all. a man whose identity, and even whose girlfriend (you remember now that he'd been dating Aerith at the time, and he even told you that he thought she'd like you if she met you) you stole and shamelessly used to protect yourself...a man you witnessed being shot in the back for your sake, to protect you from infantry in pursuit of the two of you, and a man whose body you screamed over as you finally gained awareness for the first time in five years and realized the one person who still seemed to care about you was gone.
you know, after all this, that you can't let Sephiroth get away. but not because of anything like the planet. you do care about it; you're not in denial of that. you're not in denial of what you want and what you need. but your reasoning behind wanting Sephiroth gone is more selfish than that: you needed to end this cycle. you needed your story done, and over.
after what Sephiroth did to Aerith and Zack, the two most wonderful people on this planet, the only ones who might've been worth anything in the planet aside from your own mother...you couldn't let him get away with it anymore.
you returned to Midgar to face Hojo and consult on him for Sephiroth's location, as well as to get into the North Crater. once you did that, you and your weathered friends joined you. you'd told them before to find a purpose behind fighting besides pure altruism, that you couldn't expect them to follow him to the end if they weren't fully in it.
Sephiroth had become a one-winged angel, a god. was he really an angel, or a devil? you didn't know, but you didn't care. you weren't going to make judgment calls on that. as far as you were concerned, this was for Nibelheim, for Zack, for Aerith. you're a survivor, and you're using your survival status to end the cycle of suffering.
you finished him off with an Omnislash deep within the planet. and the planet spoke back with Aerith's final wish, the one that you sought to allow to come forth: as she prayed to the planet and to the 'useless' Materia she had from her mother from the beginning, the Lifestream acted to protect the planet from Meteor. Midgar was destroyed by Meteor, but the planet was safe...thanks to Aerith.
it's almost poetic, romantic, how Aerith and Zack both sacrificed themselves for worthy causes.
'i want to meet them in the lifestream.'
that's what you say, in the end. you wish you ended in a sacrifice, instead of continuing on with a trail of blood and tears in your wake.
that's what you're going to be.
you're going to do your best to help with clean-up of the planet and continue on the legacy that Zack had. he told you that, that you're his living legacy. everyone else probably thinks that it's virtue or a torch that Zack was passing on, but you know better than that.
people like Zack and Aerith may not be remembered. they paid the fullest price, and yet everyone moves on as if they'd never been on the planet in the first place. you're not Zack's living legacy because you're carrying his torch - you're his living legacy because you're the one who will carry on his memory.
you failed him, then, and there's not a day that goes by that you don't hate yourself for it. you're sorry, you're so sorry to them both that you have to be their legacy. they could have protected so much better. hell, they could've lived, even. you know they both deserved it more.
you're so tired. but your need to not fail them at this, at least, to carry on for their sake... it's the only thing that's keeping you going.
you know why you wanted to pretend you didn't care when you were ex-SOLDIER, and it wasn't just to look cool.
it's because love hurts. and it seems, to you, that all you ever do is ruin those you love. and maybe, just maybe, you could protect everyone else if you don't love again.